Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: Le porte-drapeau de l’Armée
Jean-Baptiste Édouard Detaille was born in Paris in 1848, notably while Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte was President and before the aforementioned leader seized power and proclaimed himself Napoleon III, the sole emperor of the Second French Empire.
Detaille, using family connections that dated back to the original Napoleon, studied with noted military painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier in the 1860s and traveled abroad to North Africa and the Mediterranean in his late teens, which helped influence his later work.
Detalille himself had served during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, as a young man, in the 8e Bataillon d’Infanterie Mobile, later attached to the staff of Gen, Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot, commander of the 2e Armee in defense of Paris. So you could say that the artist knew something of what he painted.
His two-volume/150 plate “L’Armee Francaise. Types et Uniformes,” published in 1885 (Paris, Boussod, Valson et Cie,) on Japanese paper, is an epic work of 19th Century uniforms. Many of these images come from that volume.
Le rêve (The Dream), above, by Edouard Detaille, painted in 1888, depicts French soldiers asleep in their camp with the first rays of dawn on the horizon. These young conscripts of the Third Republic are seen during summer maneuvers, probably Champagne, at the time it painted. They dream of the glory of the Grand Armee of Napoleon, then of taking revenge for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This was one of the most popular propaganda pieces of the interwar period between 1871-1914 in France and indirectly helped stir the pot on WWI. It is currently at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
After the Russo-French Rapprochement in 1891, he took to covering the uniforms of the Republic’s newfound allies.
He was busy working on uniform images right up until his last days.
The artist died in 1912 in Paris, aged 64, only months before The Guns of August forever removed all of the romantic notions of beautiful uniforms with red trousers and shiny cuirasses from warfare.
Thank you for your work, sir.
When the French went into Algeria in the 1830s, they encountered the Zouaoua people, a Berber tribe along the Djurdjura mountains. Allying with these tough mountain people when possible, metropolitan French officers fell in amour with their costume of flowing colorful breeches, short jackets, turbans or fez, and capes– soon borrowing these for locally raised troops and even for European units.
By the Crimean War, French Zouave units were engaged in combat and, being the first modern European conflict since 1815, caught the imagination of those who were military minded on the other side of the Atlantic.
By the 1850s many fashionable “marching units” of militia in the U.S. were patterned on Zouave gear which led to an explosion of units on both sides of the Civil War.
It wasn’t just in the U.S, North Africa, and France that the Zouaves caught on. During the 1863 Polish Uprising against the Tsar, there was a unit of black-robed Death Zouaves in the free Pole forces.
Even Van Gough himself painted a series of Zouave portraits in the 1880s after he observed a number of officers and men nearby in garrison. They have become some of his most interesting and well-loved works.
The French, for their part, maintained Zouave units, especially among North African troops, into the 1960s. While forces in other countries were very popular until as late as the early 1900s.
Today, North African countries, to include Morocco and Algeria, still maintain Zouave influence in certain dress uniforms while the Italian Bersaglieri, with a lineage of service that included Libya and Tunisia as well as Spanish paramilitary Regulares assigned to the country’s legacy enclaves of Céuta and Melilla, retain red fezes.
And of course, there is always the Zig Zag guy.
The Library of Congress has more than 270 vintage Zouave images online covering not only U.S./Confederate units but also French, Brazilian and Ottoman troops.